Competition BBQ – Everything You Need To Know
So, you consider yourself a local BBQ grillmaster, people ask for you to cook by name, and you have a great local following. Now, you are thinking this summer is the right time to step up your game. You want to go competitive to see how you stack up against other BBQ grill competitors.
Where to begin is why we are here. We want to help you get started. Getting organized is the first key to success. It is one thing to be the king cook in your backyard, yet another be grilling against the pros. Let's get you started.
Area barbeque competitions are fairly common during the summer. Starting with smaller events is an easy way to get your feet wet in the world of competitive barbecue grilling. Check around to find when and where the competitions are being held. Most of them will have entry fees as well as rules you must follow. This is very important! Not following the rules exactly can get you disqualified. Be sure to check their foul weather policy so you will be properly prepared if it is a rain or shine event.
Also, check to see if the barbecue cook-off has divisions. Being new to the game, ask about an amateur or "patio division" versus the pro division. Entering with a less polished group of guys and gals will give you a feel for what is expected in a more formal competition. The grillmasters come to have fun but are very serious about their cooking. It will help you, in the long run, to get to know your competitors, and for them to get to know you.
What To Pack
Nothing is more embarrassing, frustrating, and discouraging than being in competition than not having what you need ready and waiting. Organizing your supplies works best if you have a checklist you go over thoroughly the day before your cookoff. Here is a sample supply list that will inspire you to create your own.
It is important to bring the right equipment for a successful event. Pack your portable grill, the correct fuel, and all you need to get your cooker up and running. Make sure your knives are sharp and the cutting boards are sanitized. You may want to have a couple of thermometers handy as back-ups are always a good idea.
Same thing for aprons, pot holders, and tongs. Have duplicates with you just in case. Keep the coffee pot filled and on the fire to give you pep when you need it. Sandwich food, snacks, and refreshing drinks will give quick energy during the event.
Make your marinades and rubs ahead of time, so they are ready to go when you start cooking. Remember, you will be under a time restriction, so the more you have prepared ahead of time, the more relaxed you will be during the barbecue cook-off.
Make a punch list of all the storage, cleaning items, and dinnerware items that will be there as you need them. Safety first should prompt you to bring a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and an ash bucket. Don't forget the toilet paper, bug spray, flashlight, and sunblock.
Some events last for several days and you may want to bring your camping gear. Remember to always have a loaded toolbox stashed in your vehicle as things have a way of going south sometimes.
A word to the wise is to have separate labeled, waterproof containers for each of the items. This will help you make a quick inventory of what you have on hand, and what needs to be replaced. It helps to keep as many items as possible packed ahead of time. Load up all the containers you can the night before you are going to the event.
Event Day One
When you arrive at the competition arena, check-in, and get your assigned location. Unload your equipment and get everything set up. Introduce yourself to the other teams. Take a lunch break including visiting other sites. Being friendly goes a long way.
Attend the cook's competition meeting that includes a Q&A session. Ask any questions you have at this time. Pick up your turn-in judge's BBQ boxes.
Prepare your meat for grilling including trimming, marinading, and chilling. Take a dinner break socializing with other team members. Get back to your site to start your longest cooks such as a brisket or pork. Prepare and build the garnishes that will be in your turn-in competition boxes.
Spend some more time hanging out with other teams. Drinking is okay, but be sure to keep it light. Hangovers, as well as unruly behavior, don't mix well with competitions.
Observe decent bedtime hours. Get as much sleep as possible. During the night, check on your meat already on the fire.
Day Two Of The Event
Rise and shine early. Dress, and check the meat on the grill. Time to put your medium-cook, like ribs, on the fire. Take a breakfast break.
Get your short-cook chicken on the grill. While everything is cooking, clean up, relax, and prepare your turn-in boxes. Have your turn-ins ready for each category.
The schedule may look something like this:
Chicken, Short-Cook - 11:55 - 12:05
Ribs, Medium-Cook - 12:25 - 12:35
Pork, Long-Cook - 12:55 - 1:05
Brisket, Long-Cook - 1:25 - 1:35
Notice! You have a ten-minute window to turn in each category to the judges with a 30-minute prep in between.
Catch your breath and start the final clean-up. Get your gear packed while waiting for the awards ceremony to begin. Check your scores and study them. Say farewell to your fellow competitors and possible future buddies. Make sure everything you brought is packed and disposed of properly. Time to go home. Best of luck - you have completed your first BBQ competition.
Practice makes perfect! Create the conditions for the trial competition at home and give it a go. The more times you do this mock competition runs, the more you work out the kinks in your routine. Invite your family, friends, and neighbors for taste testing for their feedback.
To get your cooking timelines down pat, try reversing the cooking timeline starting from the turn-in requirement and work backward to the start. Make a log of each time you grill. Note what worked well, what to ditch, and any improvements you want to make.
Keep your score sheets. Right after the grilling event ends, note anything you would change while the competition is still fresh in your mind. Check your inventory supplies. Remove unnecessary items, note what supplies you need to replace, or add. These events take a lot of energy. You need to plan your trip home knowing you will be tired. Also, plan some recoup time after you get home.
Some Of The Best National Competitions
Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour - this tour spans the country with five regions. They take place in Sam's Club parking lots.
Local Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival - Good food, good music, good libations!
Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue - located in Lynchburg, Tennesse on the fourth Saturday in October. It is worth the trip to see the best grillmasters compete.
Safeway’s National Capital Barbecue Battle - in Washington, D.C. You don't want to miss this yearly two-day event near the White House. This charity event helps the Boys & Girls Clubs in the area.
American Royal World Series - is found in Kansas City, MO over a span of 10 weeks with all the bells and whistles. This is the world’s largest barbeque cook-off that even hosts a high purse rodeo. The best of the best grillmasters show off their stuff at this event.
Atlanta Bar-B-Q Festival - finds its home in Atlanta, GA is featuring categories for different regional styles of barbeque from Memphis to Kentucky, Texas to Carolina.
International Bar-B-Q-Festival - look to Owensboro, KY, during the second week in May where a variety of meats along with a spicy stew called Burgoo is made on the grill vying to win the prestigious Governors Cup.
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - hosts over 300 competitive grillmasters smoking their meat Texas style. Nevermind that it is the largest livestock show in the world.
Memphis in May - World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest hosts grillmasters from all over the world, but we know the best is from the good ole USA.
All Said And Done
You are now ready to compete as a grillmaster. Know that others have spent years polishing their recipes and techniques. Don't get discouraged if you are slow out of the gate when it comes to rewards. Watch and learn from your event award winners. The judges and the scorecard are a big help also. Refine your methods, recipes, and food presentation to emulate those who are winning but make sure have you have your own signature touches.
Loving what you are doing goes a long way towards winning. Take pride in your accomplishments, know there is always something new to learn. Keep up with new cooking and grilling tools that are coming on to the market, they could improve your experience. You will be coming up against serious competitive grillmasters so it is time to get your A-game on the road.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to impress barbecue competition judges?
Barbecue competitions have large score sheets which take a number of things into account, like the tenderness of the meat, achieving a correct texture, and having everything come out overall juicy and moist. If you can create the best tasting dish, chances are good that you’ll score well with the judges!
How can you get ready for competition barbecue?
The best way to get ready for a competition is to practice! Compete in smaller competitions before enrolling in the big, national ones to get any nervous jitters out of the way. It’s always a good idea to volunteer at other competitions, or even enroll to become a judge. That way, you know exactly what will be happening on the other side of the table.
Can you become a certified BBQ judge?
Becoming a certified barbecue judge is the best way to know the criteria the judges will be using to judge your food! Check around in your area for Certified BBQ Judge (CBJ) training classes and exams. This certification will allow you to become a judge in most regional competitions.
Do barbecue judges score your food based on the smoke ring?
Most barbecue competition doesn’t take points off if a smoke ring isn’t present, although your food will present better when it does have a smoke ring. If you can make it happen, you will likely earn top marks for presentation.
Do competition ribs have to hit a certain temperature?
Yes, you should definitely pay attention to your temperatures with competition barbecue. Any ribs that go over 203 degrees F will likely be mushy and overcooked, which can lose you points for texture. Any ribs that are undercooked will be tough and hard to chew. For best results, wrap your ribs in foil until they reach 165 degrees F to keep them from drying out. Then, continue cooking until they reach exactly 203 degrees F for tender, chewy, moist ribs.